Eve kept Eirene company in engineering for the rest of the day. Her formal work detail was in the research lab but the events of the morning had shaken her. Something about Eirene’s company was relaxing, though… the engineer had this way of explaining her work in a way that was both soothing and engaging. Eve learned a lot about the complicated relativistic physics and exotic chemistry behind the negative mass engines.
The conversation eventually drifted from engines to Eirene’s life before Lethe-2. “Hey, we were on Pergamon at the same time,” Eirene said as she scribbled some calculations on a holographic screen projected from her watch. “Did you ever go to, uh, Ambrosia?”
“The coffee shop in Module 4? Yes, a few times.” They had a good decaffeinated green tea, Eve remembered. “You were there a lot?”
“My favorite spot. You probably saw me hunched over my screen, headphones on, looking at nobody,” she giggled. “I was antisocial then too. You?”
“The same.” Eve had gotten good at deflecting questions about her past. “You were an engineer on Pergamon?”
Eirene pursed her lips in disappointment and nodded. “But not an applied engineer. I was helping to design a portable LUX base… one that could be loaded onto a ship within a day and moved from place to place. Of course, every inch of something like that had to be as compact and economical as possible. I was working twelve, fourteen hour days for months.”
“Sounds like a good way to get burned out.”
“Well, I thought I had a handle on it until I spilled some water at the office one day and started sobbing inconsolably.” Eirene finished writing. “Here, you can check my math. But yes, I had a nervous breakdown. So they found a new job for me down here.”
Eve looked at the holograph. Most of these formulas were far too complex for her to understand… teleoarcanism didn’t involve many numbers. “As a punishment?”
“More like a vacation. A permanent vacation.” Eirene glanced around. “Lethe-2 is LUX’s Island of Misfit Toys. Everyone is here because they screwed something up at some point… unless you’re the exception to that?”
Eve decided to dodge the question. “You did these equations in your head?”
“Ah, I’m cheating. My power is Vellum Mind- it mostly lets me do useless tricks that a calculator could also handle. I’ll give you an example… punch the air.” Eirene watched Eve make the motion. “So your punch hit at about 10.3 meters per second… not that fast. If you sat on me, I could tell your exact weight.”
“I weigh more than I’m comfortable admitting,” Eve said truthfully. “So your brain functions as an accurate measurement tool?”
“Yeah, more or less. Just a silly little power, hardly any better than useless ones like Corey’s.” Eirene giggled, but her good spirits soon fell. “…I think a lot about what if I didn’t have Vellum Mind. SPRING or PLUTO would have been more interested in me, if I weren’t a witch. Instead I had to go to LUX, where the only thing that matters is results. I couldn’t reach that standard… so they sent me here to die.” She put the paper aside.
Eve said nothing. “That’s what LUX is to you?” she finally managed.
“…Yeah, I guess so. The Mater Veneficis is gone, but she got the branch she wanted. She was so brilliant, but like all brilliant people she didn’t understand how ordinary people think or feel.” Eirene’s smile was rueful. “In the end, the stress caught up to her too, didn’t it?”
Did Eirene have an inkling of Eve’s identity? No… it couldn’t be. She was just talking. “Mmm. A lot of strong opinions on her down here,” Eve said carefully.
“Don’t get me wrong, I liked Eve. I understand how she felt.” Eirene stood up and stretched her legs. “‘The only way we’ll ever be treated as equals is to do excellent work.’ It’s a nice idea. Better than what we have now. Eve isn’t so popular down here, but Hyperion is especially hated… I wouldn’t say her name very loud if I were you.”
“Duly noted.” Eve hadn’t gotten the chance to talk to many LUX owls since her meltdown. The potential for being recognized when her face was in the newsphere every single day had been too great, and before Lethe-2 she had spent a year hiding out in a FORGE base where everyone wore masks anyways. It was simultaneously refreshing and crushing to hear Eirene complain.
Eirene walked around to the side of the engine, wrench in hand. “I found the problem. There’s a loose bolt,” she said, testing the weight of the wrench. “Four hours of tests and calculations… and it’s a loose bolt. Typical, right? But it’s a triflingly easy fix.” She opened the maintenance hatch on the side and crawled inside. “Good that I caught it when I did, though! A few more days and the damage would have been a thousand times worse.”
Eirene climbed out a moment later, her forehead stained with grease and sweat but her lips curled into a triumphant smile. “There. We’re do-” her smile fell off her face and her mouth opened slightly. The color drained from her face as she stared bug-eyed at the door.
Peitho had just walked in.